Bottled Water - Not Such a Clear Choice

Shannyn Snyder

Originally packaged for the same convenience and portability as soda and juice, bottled water has over the past years quickly become not only big business but a controversial one as well.

The early manufactured bottled water was an expensive and exclusive luxury at $2-$3 per bottle, allegedly hailing from springs and glaciers. Now, many brands of bottled water are less than $1 per container, and the popularly packaged beverage has in recent years even outsold milk in the U.S.

However, both U.S. and European consumers alike seem to be unaware of exactly what type of beverage they are buying, although fine print on some bottle labels divulge that the contents are filtered drinking water instead of often assumed spring water. However, it would seem that this is the same as bottling water from the tap at home, and bottled water may not necessarily be the "clearer" choice for a healthy drink.

Questioning the quality of bottled water is not a new endeavor. In 1999, the National Resources Defense Council petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, questioning the purity of bottled water. They reported that regulations for manufacturers were lax and that some of the 1,000 bottles of water representing 103 brands used for their testing over a four-year period contained contaminants including nitrates and arsenic. The Council's concern that public distrust over tap water has played a big part in driving sales of bottled water upward, but that bottled water's general claims of safety and purity may not be entirely true.

Although the Council continues to ask the FDA to put stiffer regulations in place for bottled water manufactures, calling for at least the same rigorous testing of water that is required of city water facilities, water testing nearly a decade later yielded similar quality results. In October 2008, The Environmental Working group discovered over 38 different types of contaminants, including fertilizer, during their laboratory testing of best-selling, national brands of water. Even "traces" of some of the contaminants found in the testing are not allowed in municipal water, which is heavily regulated.

According to Dr. James M. Symons in his book, Plain Talk About Drinking Water (p 2), tap water is considered safe to drink when it meets all local, state and federal regulations. Interestingly, the Environmental Working Group found that some of their tested bottled water would not pass their state's regulations, yet it was sold in grocery stores nationwide.

Switching to from bottled water to tap or filtered water is often an uneasy habit to break, with many consumers claiming that tap water just doesn't taste as good as the bottled version. However, according to a Duke University "blind study," queried students were not able to tell the difference between the two in a taste test, which could be because some bottled waters may not be much more than filtered tap water anyway.

Finding out whether not your home tap water is safe should be a simple process, according to Dr. Symons, who says that most municipal water facilities produce a public water quality report and that Federal law requires that consumers be notified of violations (p 10). Water treatment facilities use a combination of filtration, chlorine, Ozone and UV light to remove germs and pathogens (p 22-24), and consumers can always take water treatment a step further by adding their own filtration steps at home for additional peace of mind.